Are you in the top 25% of earners? You might be surprised to discover how little it takes to be in that band. Even before the coalition cuts begin to hurt we already suffer from a low or (no) pay economy. You don’t have to look far to find evidence.
Just a few doors down the road a neighbour has a new job after being unemployed for many years. That is good news and he is very pleased to be earning money again. Unfortunately he had to work for a week’s trial without pay before the company offered him a job. And who is the company? Only one of the richest organisations in the world.
Asda is owned by WalMart which ‘thanks to cost cutting’ in August announced a profit of $3.6 billion in the US. Although Asda in the UK reported a fall in profits earlier this year that cannot possibly justify expecting low paid cashiers and shelf-stackers to work without pay. The company is now investing £100m in improving the quality of own brand goods, at the same time they should improve staff conditions by paying them for the time they spend at work.
I recently learned that a talented young journalist was reviewing plays during the Fringe. As always the reviews were unpaid but this year there was an extra sting: she had to pay for the tickets to every show she reviewed.
But it is not just the young who are badly treated. I know an experienced freelance editor who has had to drop her daily rate to retain work from the company who have hired her services for years.
There is no connection between these three cases which makes the message all the more alarming. Exploitation has become part of our lean, mean culture which is using the so-called age of austerity as a cover for slave labour. It is now deemed acceptable to drive down the rate of pay to a level that cannot sustain quality or true value for money.
In our unbalanced society (as the BBC website reports using government statistics) anyone earning more than £44,000 a year is in the top 10% of earners, at over £55,000 you are in the top 5%, but perhaps most shockingly you only have to earn £23,000 a year to be in the top 25% per cent.
To put such averages in perspective it helps to remember that the prime minister and his cabinet earning around £140,000 are actually in the top 1% of earners. (And that is not counting their considerable personal private fortunes). It is inconceivable that they have any idea what it is like to earn an average salary, let alone how to survive on the minimum wage. Or, for that matter, to be expected to work for nothing.